Center City Kehillah Celebrates the ‘Original All-Nighter’ with a Night of Learning

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The organization’s Jewish Night of Learning event from June 11 to 12 will celebrate Shavuot from sundown to sunrise with people from across the entire Philadelphia Jewish community. 
 

Just like Lionel Richie, the Center City Kehillah will be up all night long.
 
The organization’s Jewish Night of Learning event from June 11 to 12 will celebrate Shavuot from sundown to sunrise with people from across the entire Philadelphia Jewish community. 
 
The first Jewish Night of Learning was held last year with a smaller Center City Kehillah crowd. This year, more Jewish communities joined the event, which is fully inclusive to Jews of any background or denomination. 
 
The 12-hour event will feature learning from start to finish — specifically starting at 8 p.m. Saturday and ending with breakfast the following morning — at the Moore College of Art and Design.
 
“People often do a double take when they see those are really the hours of the event,” joked Miriam Steinberg-Egeth, director of the Center City Kehillah, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
 
When the event starts, it will actually still be Shabbat, so there will be a Shabbat session first, including, singing, learning and wine tasting. A candle lighting and a big Shavuot meal together will follow.
 
“It’s traditional on Shavuot to have dairy food, so we’ll have a dairy dinner, and then we’ll start the learning,” she added. Plenty of desserts will be available as the evening progresses.
 
There will be five different sessions of learning throughout the night with anywhere between three to seven different classes happening during each session, which will be taught by local rabbis, lay leaders and educators. 
 
The classes include Jewish meditation, social justice, Moroccan Jewish history, Jewish identity on TV, yoga and one that sparked this reporter’s interest, titled “Jews for Cheeses: What Makes Cheese Kosher?”
 
“We have many, many different approaches to text study,” Steinberg-Egeth said.
 
And starting at 5 a.m. — yes, starting — will be morning services, which Steinberg-Egeth said is the earliest time one can pray. Traditional and egalitarian services will be available, as well as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and an alternative meditation service at night. 
 
Attendees — Steinberg-Egeth expects between 200 and 300 — are free to come and go as they please throughout the night.
 
Rhona Gerber, a representative from the Rittenhouse Square synagogue Mekor Habracha on Center City Kehillah’s steering committee, helped plan the event, and will also participate. 
 
“It’s an exciting thing to be able to learn together with people from all over the community and have people who might look at the world through a different lens than you do,” she said.
 
Gerber is looking forward to learning from those she normally doesn’t get to see, like Rabbi Albert Gabbai from Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City, which is on the other side of town.
 
“The fact that the Torah is the foundation of who we are as the Jewish people — this is when we received the Torah — that’s what gives the importance of the holiday,” she said. “This is the basis of what Judaism is.”
 
Gerber is planning on staying at the event for the full 12 hours, looking forward to seeing more communities join for a gratifying and invigorating experience.
 
“This is an opportunity where everyone in the Jewish community — regardless of their background or affiliation or denomination or any of those things that can sometimes set us apart — anyone can come together and learn together,” Steinberg-Egeth said. “You don’t have to be a Torah scholar to come or have ever celebrated Shavuot before.”
 
And speaking of Shavuot as a non-Torah scholar — what is it?
 
“I like to call it the original all-nighter,” Steinberg-Egeth explained. “On Shavuot — supposedly the original Shavuot in the Torah — when Jews were supposed to be awake waiting to get the Torah at Mount Sinai, a lot of them fell asleep. And so the word tikkun means repair, and so the tradition came out of the idea that to repair the fact that our ancestors fell asleep, we stay up all night so that we are ready first thing in the morning at sunrise to be awake and to pray and to celebrate the Torah.
 
“It’s this sort of way to learn extra Torah all night long in a really super exciting community way to make up for the fact that our ancestors maybe fell asleep on the job,” she laughed.
 
The traditions of Shavuot have had a real resurgence in the past decade, she continued, but she’s trying to embrace the holiday the way other modern Jews celebrate Sukkot or Passover.
 
“On Sukkot, you build a sukkah, and it’s a really obvious fun thing,” she said. “On Pesach, you have a Seder, and lots of statistics show that more American Jews do a Passover Seder than any other tradition. And then seven weeks later, there’s this holiday that no one really knows what to do with.
 
“Other than eating cheesecake, there’s not a lot for people to hold onto as a Shavuot tradition,” she laughed. “One of the reasons the tikkun has come to such prominence in a lot of communities is that it’s in some ways a way to reclaim the holiday to say, ‘We’re celebrating the giving of the Torah. That is really important. Let’s not let this one slide just because there’s not a big fancy tradition to go along with it.’”
 
In some ways, Steinberg-Egeth thinks Shavuot is “the antithesis of Pesach.”
 
“It’s like the journey from leaving Egypt to getting the Ten Commandments is also this journey from being a really home-based holiday experience to coming out and staying up all night with people in your community who you don’t necessarily know,” she said. “And I think that’s actually a really nice arc that we get to see over those seven weeks from being in our homes with our families to being out in the community.” 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737

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